Salmon Bay K-8 Principal on MAP testing

While ambivalent about testing, Principal believes assessment is necessary

Below is a note from Principal Jen Benkovitz on Salmon Bay K-8's website regarding the recent boycott on MAP testing. We have a phone call into her and will be following up on the issue.

MAP, which stands for Measures of Academic Progress, is a computer-based assessment program that is aligned to WA State Standards and is used in 131 districts throughout the state. Students taking the test spend about 45 minutes completing each test, both for reading and math. MAP tests are unique in that they adapt to the appropriate level for your child’s learning. As a result, each student has the same opportunity to succeed.

MAP results provide staff with information to improve student learning. It allows school staff to monitor academic growth and consistently track progress over time, provides and overview of students’ skills and offers an opportunity for making data driven decisions about instructional delivery.

MAP results are reported using two scales: RIT (Rasch unITs) and Percentiles. RIT are used to show a student’s current achievement on a scale that is independent of grade-level. These scores show GROWTH over time. RIT scores show what students are ready to learn, not what a student has already mastered. Percentiles are used to compare a student to a large group of students of SIMILAR age or grade-level. These scores are useful to compare students around the country. For example, a student in the 85th percentile ranks the same as or higher than 85 students in a group of 100.

As you may know, the staff of two Seattle High Schools, Garfield HS and Ballard HS, recently opted out of administering the MAP to their 9th grade students. A number of you have contacted me as a result and I would like to take an opportunity to share my feelings about this with you. If you want to discuss this with me further, please feel free to contact me via email or phone.

While I am not a proponent of “standardized” testing (particularly as a sole measure of student achievement/progress), I do feel that assessment is necessary because it affords teachers the opportunity to adjust their instruction to meet students’ academic, social and emotional needs.

One of my biggest concerns with standardized tests, however, is that they do not provide students with the opportunity to think deeply or creatively. Furthermore their use often encourages a narrowed curriculum and, in some cases, are used to evaluate teacher effectiveness. Other concerns I have are that standardized tests do not tend to measure a student’s ability to comprehend complex material, to apply their understanding in new contexts, or to measure what they can do on real-world tasks.

So, as I stated in the beginning, while I am not a proponent of standardized testing as a sole measure of student achievement/progress, I do think that some form (or forms) of assessment must be used to inform instruction. For example, I firmly believe that the following assessments should complement or even replace standardized testing: Formal Teacher Observation through anecdotal records & Performance Based Assessment (thesis, portfolio, oral presentation, etc.). The latter assessment strategies involve the direct evaluation of real-world learning tasks and provide teachers, parents, students and the community with useful information/material about teaching and learning.

Many nations, like Finland, that do the best in international comparisons, use Formal Teacher Observation and Performance Based Assessment instead of large-scale standardized testing.

What does this mean for Salmon Bay K-8? This takes me back to our Mission, Vision and Values work. We are currently in the process of identifying and expressing our beliefs about teaching and learning and are making these concrete in the form of Mission, Vision and Values statements. Project-Based Learning has emerged as a significant approach that is valued by our school community. If Project-Based Learning is to be fully implemented at Salmon Bay K-8, our next steps will involve thinking deeply about how to align our human and material resources to support this endeavor. We will need to analyze our current schedule, course offerings, etc. and will eventually need to engage in deep discussion about forms of assessment that are aligned with this type of progressive and alternative instruction. We will have to think critically about the MAP and will also need to explore and experiment with Formal Teacher Observation and Performance Based Assessment. In the meantime, we do need to be able to measure student growth and performance so that instruction can be aligned with students’ needs. As of now, the MAP assessment is what is available to us.

I am looking forward to our next steps and invite you to share your thoughts about this with me.

Jen Benkovitz, Ed.D.

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